Saturday, September 5, 2015

Franchises: A Nightmare on Elm Street. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Like Jason Voorhees, I knew of Freddy Krueger from a very early age. I had first heard his name (which took me a while to figure out how to pronounce) and seen images of him from advertisements on TV when I was quite young, no more than four or five or possibly even younger. Being so young, I didn't understand what he was other than he was a monster in some very scary movies, which I actually saw a few glimpses of at that young age. Friends of mine who had less strict parents and had been able to see the movies would tell me various things about him, that he had a hand with claws (which I already knew), that he had a very long tongue, etc., and I also looked at the VHS boxes for the movies at our town's video rental store, which was how I first learned that the movies he was in were called A Nightmare on Elm Street and that he attacks you in your dreams, but it took me a while to understand exactly what he was all about. I knew from the back of those VHS boxes that he was a child killer but I didn't understand why he looked the way he did, how he was able to come back in your dreams, and how he was able to do stuff like literally eat a woman whole, as I saw him doing on the back of the box for the third movie, which really freaked me out. Slowly but surely, as I got into more contemporary horror films when I entered middle school and read up on them, I learned from many sources how Freddy operated, about his history, and about Wes Craven (as well as the other masters of horror like John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper). And this was all before I began watching the movies, which was in October of 2002. HBO or Cinemax, one of the two, was playing the original film like crazy that month and I saw some glimpses of it when I was channel-surfing, including the opening credits sequence and Tina's death in the bedroom. In fact, the latter was what I stumbled into when I ended up watching a good chunk of the film on Halloween night! I wasn't able to watch the whole movie because I had school the next day and I had to go to bed but what I saw left enough of an impression on me that I asked my aunt to get the DVD, which I had seen in a number of stores since it, along with the rest of the movies, was first put out in 1999, for me that Christmas, which she did. And upon finally getting to watch the movie from beginning to end, I instantly became a fan of the series and of the character of Freddy. While this original movie isn't my absolute favorite of the series, nor is it my favorite Wes Craven film for that matter, it's still up there in both regards and is very deserving of its classic status in my opinion.

Severly shaken after a frightening nightmare where she was stalked in a boiler room by a shadowy figure who wears a glove with knives attached to the fingers, high school student Tina Grey has her friends Nancy Thompson and Glen Lantz stay over at her house the following night when her mother takes off for a few days. During the sleepover, Tina learns that Nancy dreamt about the same frightening man the night before, and after her delinquent boyfriend Rod Lane shows up and the two of them make up for a fight they'd had before by having sex, she learns that he'd had a nightmare too. That night, when Tina falls asleep, she dreams that she's awoken and lured outside into a backalley by an eerie voice calling for. She's immediately confronted by the same man, who chases her back to the house, all the while toying with her using his supernatural abilities, and finally catches her. Rod is woken up by her screams and sees her brutally ripped apart and dragged up the wall and across the ceiling by an unseen force. Horrified, Rod escapes through the window before Nancy and Glen enter the room to find the bloody aftermath. At the police station, Nancy's father, Lt. Donald Thompson, asks her what happened, suspecting Rod to be the killer, but Nancy is adamant that he wouldn't do something like that and tells both him and her mother, Marge, about the nightmare Tina said she'd had the night before. The next day, despite not having slept at all after what happened, Nancy goes to school and runs into Rod, who says that he didn't kill Tina and that there was someone else in the room, before he's arrested and taken away. Later on in English class, Nancy falls asleep and dreams that she's lured down into the school's basement, where she ends up in the same boiler room Tina had found herself in and is chased by killer, who corners her and calls himself Freddy before closing in for the kill. Nancy burns herself on a hot pipe, waking herself up, and on her way home, sees a burn on her arm in the same spot where she had done so in her dream. After talking with Rod in the jail and learning that he dreamed about the same man she and Tina had, Nancy becomes terrified to go to sleep, and as more of her friends fall prey to the killer, and after she learns his identity when her mother reveals a dark secret that the town's parents have been hiding, she realizes that it's up her to confront him before she becomes his next victim.

As anybody who's a fan of him knows, by the time Wes Craven got around to making A Nightmare on Elm Street, his most iconic film and a script that he'd written around 1981 but didn't get to make until 1984 because no one was interested, he already some weight to his name, having directed the cult favorites The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. But, regardless, he still wasn't on Hollywood's A-list at this point since those films had no mainstream appeal and none of the films he'd made since then, which were a couple of TV movies called Stranger in Our House and Invitation to Hell and the theatrical films Deadly Blessing and Swamp Thing, had had any kind of impact. In fact, Craven had fallen on bad financial times at this point and had directed the ill-advised sequel, The Hills Have Eyes Part II, which wasn't even released until after the success of Nightmare, in a desperate attempt to get some cash. And yet, despite all of that, he was still risking a lot with this, his pet project, having gone with New Line Cinema, which was virtually nothing at the time, to back the film after the major studios either turned it down or had asked him to lighten the film up. You have to admire Craven for wanting to make this movie so badly that, in spite of his lack of clout at the time, he was willing to put his money where his mouth was to get it made any way he could, even though it could have potentially destroyed him. Of course, it would pay off immensely, becoming an enormous hit, and would slowly but surely allow Craven to become a big Hollywood director and let him do the movies that he wanted to do (making him one of the few of the "masters of horror" to actually do so), even if they weren't always successful in some ways. And since, at the time I'm writing this, Mr. Craven has passed away (the day before I began this review, which I had been planning on doing for some time), I feel it's necessary for me to say a few, brief words about it as it is a real loss to both the horror genre and movies in general. While I'm not a fan of everything that he's ever done, and it sucks that his last two movies, My Soul To Take (the only film of his I got to on here while he was alive, sadly) and Scream 4, were not good at all, he was still a very intelligent, well-read, and sophisticated man (in his audio commentaries, he's more like an interesting teacher than a director simply commenting on his work and how "awesome" it is, which made them nice to listen) who managed to accomplish a lot in his career. He always seemed to be a very humble, kind soul who just stumbled across the fact that he was good at making horror films, which he had no knowledge of until he got into filmmaking and I feel was something he had mixed feelings about since he had many, many other interests. Anyway, we should move on to the actual review but I just wanted to give my two cents on Mr. Craven as a person and tell him to rest in peace. You earned it, sir.

I'll be honest, I find Heather Langenkamp's acting during the first bit of the movie to be pretty... rough. Her lines to Tina, "The point is that everyone has a bad dream once in a while," and, "It's amazing you saying that. That made me remember the dream I had last night," really make me cringe and would make you think that this is going to be your typical slasher movie with actors who wouldn't fare well in a high school play. But, after Tina's killed, Langenkamp comes around and is very successful in making Nancy a lead that you root for. She's not too sure what's going on at first and, even though she tells her parents otherwise, she does appear to have doubts about whether or not Rod did kill Tina, but once she becomes Freddy's new prime target when she begins to fall asleep and learns that Rod dreamt about him just as Tina did, she realizes that this is something that's supernatural and, despite what her parents and the other adults may think, frighteningly real. Although she becomes terrified to go to sleep, she's not a complete coward or a screaming damsel in distress because she does decide to allow herself to fall asleep in order to try to prove beyond doubt that it is real and then do what she can to protect those that she loves from Freddy. That's another thing about Nancy: from the very beginning, you can tell that she's the definition of a good person with how she clearly cares about Tina and her friends, agrees to sleep over with her so she won't have to be alone, is shattered when she's murdered in such a horrible fashion, and, again, tries to protect everyone else from Freddy. But, when her friends, including her boyfriend, Glen, get slaughtered and because none of the adults, not even her own parents, will believe her when she tries to tell them what's going on, Nancy decides she has no choice but to risk her own life by falling asleep and attempting to pull Freddy into the real world where she can battle him more easily. That's another thing: she's not only braver but far more resourceful, self-reliant, and intelligent than your typical slasher movie heroine. Long before she comes up with this plan, she's reading up on how to set booby traps, hits on the notion that she can drag Freddy out of the dream like she had done with his hat earlier at the clinic, tries her best to arrange it so that her father and the police will be there to deal with Freddy after she pulls him out (which kind of works but not completely), and comes up with a lot of great traps and devices to hit him with once she does so. And finally, when all else fails, she decides to simply refuse to give Freddy any more power through her fear and turn her back on him, calling him nothing, which ultimately defeats him (or so you think, as we'll get to).

Ever since Psycho, a lot of horror films have tried the trope where someone whom you think is going to be the protagonist ends up getting killed early on but, even though I knew she was going to die when I finally saw the movie for the first time from beginning to end, I felt really bad for Tina (Amanda Wyss) when she met her end because you really do grow to like her in the short span of time she's alive. She comes across as a very nice, decent girl who has a less than perfect home life, with mom who has boyfriends that sleep over and is not above just taking off and leaving Tina alone for a few days, a father who abandoned them both years ago (probably because the mother cheated on him), and a boyfriend of her own who's very rough around the edges. You actually feel kind of sad for her when you realize how turbulent her life is and it makes her death, which is very brutal and grisly and punctuated by her looking and sounding like she's in genuine fear for her life, all the more difficult to watch. In fact, she seems so frightened when Freddy is just toying with her before he comes in for the kill, like when she's running from him and screaming, "No! No!", that it makes that hard to watch as well. Even worse, her torment doesn't appear to end after she's killed; Freddy begins using the image of her dead, pale corpse in a body-bag to lure and frighten Nancy. I'm not entirely sure if her soul is stuck in some kind of limbo or if Freddy is just creating the image of her, as it was with that hall-pass girl, but either way, the idea of him not allowing Tina to rest in peace and desecrating her image after he killed her in such a horrific manner makes Freddy look like even more of a bastard.

At first, Tina's boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia, who was going by the name Nick Corri at the time), seems like the typical delinquent boyfriend who sees Tina as little more than a piece of tail but as the movie goes on, it's clear that's not the case. Like I said up above, he has his issues, with a criminal record that includes drugs and brawling, a jealous streak, and a short fuse (he pulls a switchblade on Glen for a very minor insult and let's not forget the classic, "Up yours with a twirling lawnmower") but you can see that he does care a lot about Tina in the intimate moments between the two of them and he's both furious and crushed when she's killed, crumbling into tears when he tells Nancy in the jail that he might have been able to save her if he hadn't been so shocked at what was happening. Unfortunately, he does get taken in as a suspect in her death due to his shady background and is killed by Freddy after he falls asleep in his cell, which sucks because Nancy, despite having seen a premonition of it in one of her dreams, tries her best to save him and because he didn't even get a chance to get revenge for what Freddy did to Tina. He may have eventually died but I have a feeling Rod would have gone out swinging had he gotten the chance to fight Freddy in his dream.

Given the kind of roles he would become known for playing when his career took off, it's weird seeing Johnny Depp in such a straightforward, "boy next door" type of role like Glen Lantz, especially when he's wearing a jersey and when Nancy calls him a jock because that's not him at all. As far as his performance, I think Depp does just fine here. He doesn't have a lot of screentime nor does his part have much meat to it, and his acting is pretty standard, but you can overlook all that since he'd never acted before in his life and also because he's successful in making Glen a likable, average guy regardless. In fact, he has one of the funniest moments in the film to me, when he's stuck sleeping on the couch downstairs while Tina and Rod have very loud sex up above, with Nancy having rejected a come-on from him earlier because she felt they were there to support Tina making it even more torturous, and he turns over and grumbles, "Morality sucks." (Don't worry, man. You'll have all types of women, young and old, drooling over you soon.) Oddly, Freddy doesn't seem to go after him in his dreams except for one time the night before the movie starts, which makes Glen about as skeptical as the adults when Nancy tries to make him understand what's going on (like them, he's convinced that it was Rod who killed Tina). He goes along with it because he does care about Nancy but it's mainly just to humor her, and he doesn't take it all that seriously because he's constantly falling asleep when he should be either keeping an eye on her or preparing to meet up with her. Not surprisingly, this gets him killed, and Freddy makes up for not having terrorized him in his dreams by giving him a really nasty death, reducing him to a big geyser of blood.

As Nancy's father, Lt. Donald Thompson, John Saxon doesn't have much screentime but, being the great actor that he is, he makes the most of what he has. Lt. Thompson is portrayed as something of a hardass, disbelieving father who, while he does have genuine affection for his daughter, doesn't believe, or rather doesn't want to believe, what she's telling him, being particularly concerned with how she could possibly know who Fred Krueger is and describe him in such detail. He's more than willing to write the case off by proclaiming Rod to be the one who killed Tina, despite what Nancy says, and uses her to arrest him the day after the murder. Even after Freddy kills Rod and then takes care of Glen in such a nasty way, Thompson is still not willing to believe Nancy's claims about Fred Krueger stalking her and her friends in their dreams, feeling that it's just a delusion of hers. Although, he is smart enough to understand that this is something far from normal when he sees the aftermath of what happened to Glen and, in spite of his not believing her when she tells him that she's going to go get Freddy and bring him out of her dream, he does tell his sargent to watch her house and tell him if he sees anything strange. When Nancy manages to bring Freddy out into the real world and is being chased around the house by him, the sargent sees enough through the window to where he does go notify Thompson. When I first saw the movie from beginning to end, I remember being very antsy when Thompson and the other cops break down the door to Nancy's house and finally enter it because, after all of the disbelief she'd been put through, I so badly wanted them to see Freddy and realize that she was right. That kind of happens because Thompson does follow Nancy upstairs when she realizes that Freddy went up there to attack her mother and he gets a glimpse of Freddy's burning body, which he smothers with the bedspread, as well as a big, clear look at Marge's corpse disappearing into the bed. Ultimately, though, he's not sure what he saw, walking out of the bedroom in disbelief, which is the last time you see him, and you learn later on in Nightmare 3 that he's in denial about what happened and still doesn't believe Nancy's claims.

The one character in the film that I can say that I don't like that much is Nancy's mother, Marge (Ronee Blakley). Her father may not believe her claims about what's happening but at least he's willing to go out on a limb for her, as I described up above; Marge, on the other hand, not only continuously tells Nancy that she's just imagining things but, as Nancy herself says, acts like Fred Krueger was something that Nancy made up when she knew damn well who he was all along. She only confesses to Nancy about who he was and her part in his death when she has no choice left because Nancy is close to learning about it herself, even showing her his glove, which she's been keeping in a boiler down in the cellar, something that Nancy herself had already described in detail. And that's another thing: no matter what happens, Marge refuses to believe Nancy's claims, even when she pulls Freddy's hat out of the dream. That, in particular, kills me, because she honestly thinks it's something that Nancy found and is using to prove her point, which she says to both Nancy herself and someone she talks to on the phone (probably Lt. Thompson). Where does she think she was keeping it when she went into the dream clinic, especially after they made her put on pajamas? Up her... you know? And where does she think those slashes on her arm came from? It also doesn't help that Marge is an alcoholic and uses it to escape everything that's going on around her, which Nancy confronts her with and gets slapped for it. (That's probably why her father won't have anything to do with her.) But the last straw for me is when Marge makes Nancy a prisoner in her own home by putting bars on the windows and installing new locks to the doors and then getting rid of the key, which prevents her from saving Glen and ensures that there will be no way for her to escape Freddy when she pulls him out of her dream. I don't deny that she does love Nancy, which you can see in that last tender moment between them before Nancy goes to face Freddy, apologizing to her for not telling her about him sooner, but it's hard to forgive her for all of the crap she put her daughter through before that. She was already going through enough by being afraid to go to sleep and get slaughtered.

This... is God.
Fans of the series say that in his first time out as Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund is much darker, scarier, and not a jokester compared to how he is in the later films and while I do agree that he's a much more menacing and frightening presence here, I've always felt that the later movies simply expanded upon on an aspect of his character that's been there ever since this first film. He may not be cracking one-liners left and right (in fact, he hardly talks at all in his scenes) but Freddy has a sadistic sense of humor about what he's doing, like when he cuts his fingers off to freak Tina out, disguises himself as a hall monitor and tells Nancy, "No running in the hallway," or when he wears Tina's face and talks in her voice to to mess with Nancy. He's also having the time of his life when terrorizing his victims, laughing maniacally at their fear when he toys with them and chases after them. He really seems to enjoy that more than the actual killing given how, even though he could kill them very quickly, he tends to draw the chase out and taunts them ruthlessly, as in the moments I just mentioned and when Tina is screaming, "No!" repeatedly and he yells, "Yes!" Given that he was a child killer when he was alive, you can imagine that this is the same kind of stuff he did to all of those kids before he murdered. When he corners Nancy and tells her, "Gonna get you," that sounds like something you might say when you're playing with a little kid, only with a much more sinister meaning in this context, and the same goes for, "Come to Freddy," which was probably the last thing most of those kids heard. Speaking of which, Freddy is such an enjoyable villain to watch, even in this film, that it's easy to forget that he was the most despicable type of criminal imaginable when he was alive: a person who preyed on and killed scores of innocent little kids and he's bringing that same kind of sadistic, sick pleasure he got out of that when he's stalking and killing the teenagers in their dreams. The idea of someone that horrible getting a chance to continue doing this after he's dead, and to the now teenaged children of the people who killed him, is pretty disturbing and isn't fair at all. And while it's never said outright whether or not he molested them as well as killed them, I don't think it's inconceivable to think that someone who would do something as vile as murdering little kids would also do that (plus, some of the stuff he does, like when he wags his tongue at Nancy and French-kisses her through the phone, suggest quite a lot). That sadistic pleasure and fun that he has throughout most of the movie makes the last act, where he's furious and now just wants to kill Nancy for all the trouble she's caused him, all the more frightening to me. We've seen him when he's been enjoying himself doing this but now, he's not playing around anymore and is determined to rip Nancy apart, yelling at her and threatening her as he chases her around the house, showing us the real evil behind the glee that we saw earlier. Can you imagine the fear some of those little kids must have felt if they did something that made him this angry?

The first times I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street, I hit upon something interesting: when Freddy speaks in the first three nightmare sequences, it's Robert Englund's normal voice but when he attacks Nancy when she falls asleep in the bathtub, it's now a deep, booming, demonic voice that he has for the rest of the film and the rest of the series for that matter, save for something weird going on in Nightmare 3, as we'll see when we get to that film. I thought that was strange when I first hit upon it but not too long afterward, I read that some people saw it as a sign that Freddy is becoming more powerful the more people he kills and the more intricate nightmares he creates. I like that idea and, in fact, I'll go a step further and say that it's a sign that he's becoming something far more horrible than what he used to be, that at the beginning of the film it was merely the evil spirit of Fred Krueger haunting people in their dreams but he's now becoming something that's downright demonic. That voice makes him sound much more threatening when he laughs and speaks while attacking someone and, by extension, makes those sequences less entertaining and more frightening and disturbing for the viewer. And at the end of the movie when he's filled with rage and is trying to kill Nancy any way he can, that voice makes him sound all the more like somebody you'd want to run like hell from (which is how I think he sounds throughout the entirety of the second film, as we'll get to).

Not only does Freddy not have many lines in this first film but because he's almost always filmed in very low lighting or in quick cuts, you also don't get a good look at his face. You see highlights here and there but, except for one shot, you never blatantly look at his face in bright light and in that one where you do, it's obscured by some horizontal bars in the boiler room. I think that was a smart move on Wes Craven's part because when you see images of Freddy's makeup here in bright light, I don't think it looks that good. I know David Miller didn't have much money to work with and the makeup does look really good and nasty in the actual movie, with the selective lighting combined with the texture and glistening of it appearing to bring out details that aren't there, like pus and blood in some shots (that's what I thought I saw when I watched the film those first times), but in behind-the-scenes photos and other material, like that alternate ending where he's driving the car, where you can really see it, it doesn't look great. I will say, though, that it looks a whole lot better than the makeup Miller went on to create for Freddy in The Dream Child and Freddy's Dead, with something of a nasty, shriveled effect to it that he wasn't able to recreate in those later films. Not only does keeping Freddy in the shadows hide the imperfections in the makeup but, as is the case with a lot of monsters and villains in horror movies, it keeps an air of mystery about him that makes him unknowable and all the more frightening. For instance, that creepy as hell shot of him stepping out of the shadows in the boiler room when Nancy first dreams about him or whenever you see him peaking around a corner? He really feels like a boogeyman there, like that thing that made you afraid to go into a dark room when you were a kid. I sometimes wonder if that's what Craven saw when he spied on that creepy bum walking down the street in his neighborhood when he was a kid that was one of the inspirations for Freddy. That's another thing: Freddy has a very mythic ambience to him. Not only is he the embodiment of what scares kids in general, with Craven having created him out of an amalgamation of different things (that bum, a bully that beat on him when he was a kid, etc.), but he's like an evil pall that's been hanging over the small town in this film for years, even for those who've never heard of him. Not only was he a real life boogeyman that tormented the town and a horrible secret that those who murdered him have been trying to hide from their own children, he also managed to become something of a figment of fear for a new generation of kids, with Nancy and Tina both having heard of his nursery rhyme long before they began dreaming about him. In short, if he hadn't come back as an evil spirit who kills people in their dreams, he would have still been frightening as an urban legend.

One, two, Freddy's coming for you...
Whenever I talk with people about the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, I almost always forget to mention the nursery rhyme sung by those girls playing jump-rope and I don't know why because it's such a big part of the series' mythos. Really, though, what can I say about that song that hasn't already been said? It's simple, creepy, and I often wonder how it came about exactly, since Nancy and Tina know of it even though they don't know who Freddy was. Did some of the kids' parents sing that song to them and it got spread around the schoolyards? If so, why would you sing that to your kids? Certainly not to make them go to bed at night given that the last verse is, "Never sleep again." Maybe it was to make sure they were home by nightfall or something. Regardless, the song has been sung in different ways throughout the series, some scarier than others, with this first iteration not being too creepy to me. The lyrics are always eerie but the way these kids sing it sounds too robotic for me, especially when you first hear it at the beginning. It sounds a little better at the end but still not enough to give me the creeps. I've always assumed that those little girls who sing the song are some of the kids that Freddy killed while he was alive and now he has them stuck in limbo, singing that song. If so then, as it possibly is with the image of Tina that Nancy sees after she's killed, that's just ghastly that Freddy won't let them rest in peace after he killed them years before. I don't know if it's possible that they could be an illusion that Freddy came up with as it's also possible with Tina since, unlike her, none of the characters actually see the girls. Maybe their only purpose is to give the hint of Freddy's presence. Or maybe they are something that Freddy comes up with out of thin air to scare his victims and he never got around to using them for that purpose here. At the end of the day, though, who really knows how any of this works?

I always thought that Freddy had actual claws on one of his hands when I was young. It wasn't until I read up on it and started watching the movies that I understood that it was a glove with knives on the fingers, a wicked weapon that he made himself. And since the movie opens with making the glove in the boiler room before he begins stalking Tina, I thought at first that it was something that he began using once he was able to attack people in their dreams. It wasn't until I saw the movie all the way through that I got to the scene where Marge shows Nancy the glove that she kept down in their cellar, showing that it was something he had always used. The idea of him killing little kids was bad enough but using that thing to do it? That makes it even sicker. Ugh, and the scraping. Like a lot of people, I can't stand that kind of noise and while the way it sounds in these movies doesn't bug me as much as it could, it's still nerve-wracking to hear as often as you do, which would make it a perfect method of freaking me out if Freddy came after me. Speaking of the glove, I've never thought that it looked as scary in the other movies as it does here. I don't know what it is about the way this first one was designed or if it's the way it's shot or what but it has a freaky quality to it that the other gloves never had. I also think the plastic-like clinky sounds it makes as it moves and bends here gives it a more homemade feel than the metallic sounds that gave it in the later movies. Freddy's sweater never felt right in the later movies to me, either. They looked too clean and nice, whereas this one feels dirty and grimy, as it should be since it adds that extra "ick" factor to an already disgusting-looking character. And I find it interesting that Craven chose to make the sweater red and green because he read that those are the two colors that the human eye has trouble seeing side by side, making him an uncomfortable optical  effect in essence (although my eyes never bother me when I look at his sweater).

I've always found it odd that so many studios passed on Craven's script because they felt that nobody would watch a movie about dreams when, as Bob Shaye himself said, it's a natural idea for a horror film because bad dreams are something that everyone can relate to. Everyone has had nightmares and while I think few have probably been so horrific that you really felt like they in danger, except maybe when you wake up with a start because you think you're falling or something similar, we all have had those that were scary or weird enough to where, when you wake up, you think to yourself, "What in the hell was that about?" I find the idea of dreams in and of themselves, be they good or bad, to be scary because of how unexplainable they are. There are many theories and their nature has been given different philosophical and religious meanings in different cultures throughout recorded history but, to this day, no one is exactly sure what they are or how they come about except that they're tied to the REM stage of sleep. They're one of the few legitimate mysteries that scientists know exist but don't have an explanation for, which makes them scary as well as fascinating, especially since it's a mystery we return to every night when we go to bed. I also find it creepy when something that's possibly supernatural in origin is examined through scientific means, typically as a way to debunk it, and the tools come up with concrete data that more or less proves that it's frighteningly real. You count on science to rationalize something for you and make it understandable but instead, you're come away with even more of an uneasy feeling than you had before. That's why that scene in the dream clinic is very creepy to me. They watch Nancy as she sleeps and Dr. King is able to explain to Marge that she's slowly moving into deep sleep and that she could dream at any moment as a result, that she's most definitely dreaming a few moments later but it's a good one, and then, it turns into a nightmare. This is the only nightmare that we don't see but we do hear the sound of the water dripping in the boiler room and Freddy's knives scraping against metal before Nancy begins thrashing around in a panic. Most frightening of all, King says that on the instruments that are monitoring Nancy's brain, a nightmare is indicated by plus or minus five or six but when she begins freaking out, the damn thing goes through the roof, going up to 30, which confuses him because he says that never happens.

Not only are dreams themselves scary but so is the idea of something in your dreams that's just waiting for you to fall asleep so it can attack and kill you because there's no escape. You can't run or hide from something like that because it's always with you in essence and there's a feeling of inevitability to it as well. You may try to save yourself by staying awake but sooner or later, your body won't be able to take it anymore and you'll fall asleep. That's what makes Freddy an effective villain: he knows this and is patient enough to wait on you to succumb to your sleepiness, no matter how long it takes. And you have to think about how this weighs on the victims' minds when they're so desperately tired and want to go to sleep but can't because they know they'll be doomed if they do so and, at the same time, they know it's a losing battle. Looking at them when they're so exhausted and run ragged by what's going on and are nodding off makes me tired as well, which is why I don't attempt to watch these movies when I'm sleepy. Freakiest of all is that Craven based his story on some real incidents that actually happened and that the course of events was almost verbatim, with kids becoming afraid to go to sleep, fearing that there was something in their dreams that wanted to kill them, and doing whatever they could to avoid sleeping, like refusing to take sleeping pills and keeping a pot of coffee hidden in their rooms, until they eventually did succumb to it and die in their sleep just as they were afraid they would. The details in the third article that Craven read, which he would tell in many interviews and were what got to him enough to inspire him to turn these stories into a movie, in particular are so close to the film that it's really scary, right down to how this started happening out of the blue. Tina's nightmare at the beginning, as well as the identical ones you learn that all of her friends had that same night, was the first time that this had happened. Before then, they had led pretty normal lives but now, they're inexplicably having these frightening dreams and are dropping like flies, which mirrors how this suddenly started happening to these people in real life. There's probably more of an explanation for the real life scenario, particularly since they came from work camps in Cambodia, but it's a scary notion nonetheless.

As John Carpenter had done in Halloween, Wes Craven creates a scenario where you have a great evil that emerged from a seemingly innocent, white-bread America town and continues to hang over it. This is one of those tight-knit, middle-class communities where everybody knows each other and are like one big family and yet, just like how Michael Myers was a seemingly normal kid who, unbeknownst to everyone else, had a dark side that would turn him into a killer at a young age and a genuine boogeyman as an adult, amongst them was Fred Krueger, a normal, unassuming guy who turned out to be a sick, twisted person who preyed on innocent children. As Robert Englund himself once said, it's an interesting dichotomy when you think about how, in one of these innocent-looking, quaint houses, Freddy was constructing the glove that he would use to butcher children after he took them to an old, abandoned boiler room. That's another interesting juxtaposition, that somewhere in this town was this boiler room that looked like a place straight out of hell, with its hanging chains, steam blasting out of the pipes, and water dripping everywhere. Like Michael, even though he's long since been done away with for the horrible crimes he committed, Freddy still haunts the town, with a nursery rhyme being made up about him and the parents doing whatever they can to keep the truth about who he was and what happened to him away from their kids, not knowing that he's returned to continue killing. That's another dark secret behind this setting: the citizens having taken justice into their own hands when the legal system failed. Although it's merely backstory in this instance, it's another example of the theme that Craven explored in The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes about how, when pushed, civilized people can commit acts of violence that are just as horrific as those done by criminals.

As with a lot of slasher movies made around that time, some see symbolism pertaining to the trials of adolescence, particularly in regards to sex, in A Nightmare on Elm Street and while I normally roll my eyes at that because I think it's people reading way too much into something, I can kind of see what they're talking about here. Since the two people that we see Freddy chase on foot and physically attack are women, it's not too hard to see him as a would-be rapist, and Tina's thrashing around on the bed before Freddy guts her, like he's pinning her down, does look like a rape in progress. On top of that, there's also the obvious sexual connotation with Freddy wagging his tongue at Nancy and French-kissing her through the phone, as well as his having possibly been a child molester as well as a murderer when he was alive. And I don't think I need to elaborate on that image of his hand coming up through the water in the bathtub between her legs; that's made me uncomfortable in more ways than one ever since I first saw it. In addition to the sexual connotations, there's also the social anxiety that Nancy goes through because everyone else, including her own boyfriend, thinks that she's just imagining things, and her relationship with her parents, particularly her mother, becomes very antagonistic. As Robert Englund once noted, a lot of the parents in the film are more messed up than the kids: they're alcoholics (Marge), they're not around for their kids (Tina's mother and Nancy's father), they're judgmental towards others, particularly Nancy (Glen's father), etc. Marge herself, Ronee Blakely, once noted that the parents could almost pass for villains themselves. Ultimately, it's up to Nancy to deal with all of this craziness from the adults and, since they're incapable of doing so for various reasons, confront and defeat Freddy herself, which she does... sort of.

For a film whose final budget would come out as a mere $1.8 million, the effects that Craven and his crew intended to pull off were very ambitious. Aside from the makeup and gore effects, you also had a number of complicated mechanical and optical ones that would really push the crew with how much they had to work with. However, they really rose to the task and managed to pull off some stuff, some of which was ridiculously cheap in and of itself, that still holds up today. As I said earlier, I think that the makeup David Miller created for Robert Englund doesn't look so good when you see it in bright light and, therefore, it was a smart idea to keep him in the shadows and only suggest things, which has the effect of creating details that might not even be in there. The other makeup and blood effects are also all shot to look very realistic and still look pretty impressive, like when Tina's torso gets sliced open and blood goes everywhere, the way that room and the bed becomes covered in the stuff once Freddy finally does her in, and when you see the cuts on Nancy's arm after her nightmare in the dream clinic and how the blood seeps through her bandages every now and then. That's to say nothing of when Freddy is injured or does it to himself to freak out his victims. I still cringe when he cuts his own fingers off and green blood shoots out or when he slices his torso open and you see more green blood and maggots ooze out (the use of other creepy-crawlies like a centipede and goo-covered eels is very effective as well). That puppet of Freddy for when Tina pulls his face off while struggling with him, revealing a laughing skull, could have come across as very hokey but is shot quickly enough to where it looks really freaky, especially when you combine it with Robert Englund's cackling. And that shot of his facing pushing through the wall above Nancy when she's sleeping is iconic and was done very, very simply and barely cost anything. However, some of the effects that they create for Freddy, even though they look good on film, have always come across as rather silly in concept and feel like stuff that you would see in the campier films that came later. That shot of Freddy in the alley with his arms extending does look nice and it's impressive when you hear, as with a lot of these effects, how simply they pulled it off with fishing poles but it always feel a little hokey to me. I think they should have left it out and waited until the moment when Tina runs from Freddy and he pops up in front of her to show that he's more than just your average killer. And his mouth and tongue coming out of a phone? It makes for a good shock moment but that visual is rather ridiculous to me, especially when you see behind-the-scenes images of it.

The mechanical and optical effects in the film are what are really impressive given the low budget. Those shots of Freddy stepping out from behind a tree that would have been too skinny to really hide him (with the only flaw being that his glove is on the wrong hand when he does so), him walking through the bars of the jail cell, whe the burnt body of Marge descends and disappears into the bed, and Freddy vanishing into nothingness when Nancy turns her back on him at the end are all very well executed and still look great, even the latter despite the dated, cartoony sparkling added to it. As for the mechanical effects, the most impressive by far is the use of the rotating room for the scenes where Tina and Glen are killed. That is still really amazing to watch as Tina really looks like she's getting dragged up the wall and across the ceiling by an invisible attacker and as gallons and gallons of blood pour out of Glen's bed and across the ceiling after Freddy pulls him through (apparently, Glen had as much blood in his body as you would find in over 20 people!) There's also some great use of wire-work for shots where Freddy is invisible, like when Tina gets levitated off the bed and flung into the wall, when her dead body gets pulled down the hallway in the school (the way her right arm flops behind her as she gets dragged is a nice touch), and when Rod's bedsheet in the jail cell snakes its way around his neck while he sleeps. Even though I think Craven's original vision for it was better, the ending shot of Marge getting pulled through the window on the front door looks pretty good to me since it's shot and edited quickly enough to where you can't see how silly the dummy the used looked. And I like how they solved the problem of Freddy being able to reach up through the bathtub and then pull Nancy down into it by building a tank below it in a studio. Very creative filmmaking. The only part that I can't overlook, low budget or not, is how that stuntman they used for when Nancy sets Freddy on fire near the end looks nothing like Robert Englund at all. He was impressive for how long he stayed lit on fire and all of the stuff that he did while on fire (running up the stairs, tumbling back down, and starting up again) but he's so big and bulky that it's difficult for me to believe that it's Freddy Krueger. Couldn't they have found a stuntman who was as thin as Englund? Are thin stuntmen more expensive?

In comparison to the much larger and intricate sequences in the later movies, the nightmares in this first film are pretty simple and reflect the real world for the most part, with the only truly fantastical environment being Freddy's boiler room, which itself has a real-world counterpart that we never see. Also, it's much easier upon repeated viewings to figure when someone fell asleep, whereas in the later films, reality becomes so twisted around that you often don't know where it ends and the dream world begins. And finally, as we'll see, Freddy's influence isn't just limited to the dream world; he often causes supernatural phenomena to happen in the real world as well, giving him a feeling of omnipotence that makes him even more of a frightening entity.

The film opens with an eerie and tiny-framed scene (it only takes up the upper third of the screen) that shows Freddy making his glove in the boiler room and then slipping his hand into it and flicking the blades out, with the title coming up at the camera as Charles Bernstein's music goes from menacing to out and out frightening. As the opening credits roll, you see a quick shot of his claws slicing through some fabric and Tina wandering through a long, dark hallway where there's water dripping from the ceiling as well as steam coming out of the pipes there. She hears Freddy's voice call to her a few times and she turns her head to look back down the hallway, trying to see if there's anyone back there, when she hears a loud clang up ahead. When she turns around, she sees a sheep running towards her and Freddy cackling, prompting her to run to the side and enter the main boiler room. She walks along some scaffolding, constantly looking behind her, and hears some clanging and metal scraping somewhere in the darkness, making her very uneasy. The camera pans down to the floor below as she keeps walking, where you see Freddy walk through the shadows as he laughs again (for the longest time, I missed that visual). Tina walks on through the boiler room, coming to a spot where there's fabric hanging up, when she hears his knives scrape against some metal, causing her to turn around with a start. When she does, he rips through some fabric behind her, making her run down the hall and into a small section with a furnace, as she hears Freddy breathing heavily behind her. He comes around the corner, scraping the metal as he does, and prompts her to scream, but then he surprisingly walks on, leaving only the sound of bleating sheep behind. Not sure what just happened, Tina casually walks to the entrance of the little space and just when she thinks she can breathe easy, Freddy pops up behind her and grabs her. She then screams and bolts up awake, with her mother coming in to check on her. Her mother points out the slashes on the front of her nightgown and after she leaves, Tina grabs the crucifix hanging on the wall behind her and huddles with it, while we hear the infamous nursery rhyme for the first time.

When Nancy, Glen, and Rod are sleeping over with Tina the next night, following a fake scare where Rod lures them outside by scraping a tool down some metal and then tackles Glen from behind, it gradually becomes apparent that something isn't quite right. Nancy is sleeping in Tina's room when that crucifix suddenly falls off the wall and onto the bed. This gets her attention and she picks it up and looks at it but then puts it away and goes back to sleep. Elsewhere, Tina, who's sleeping in her mother's bedroom with Rod, is "awoken" by the sound of a pebble hitting the window. She doesn't pay it much attention and immediately lies back down when she hears another one hit with more force. She tries to wake Rod up but gets nothing more than a snore out of him when several more pebbles hit at once. She then hears the vague sound of Freddy calling her and gets up, puts on a shirt, and walks over to the window. She looks out into the yard and doesn't see anything but two more pebbles hit the window, with the second hitting with enough force to leave a small hole in the glass. Tina inspects it and then hears Freddy call for her again outside. Meanwhile, as Nancy sleeps, Freddy pushes his face and hands through the wall behind her and looms over her as she starts tossing around. He retracts before she wakes up and when she does, she clearly feels uneasy and looks at the crucifix again. She puts it back on the wall and then feels it and knocks it to make sure that it's solid. Satisfied that it is, she lies back down and goes back to sleep.

Tina walks to the back door, sticks her head out, and asks if there's someone out there. Freddy calls her name in response and she walks into the yard, hearing him call to her again from the nearby alley. She walks out into the alley and a garbage can lid comes rolling down the path behind her. When she turns around at the sound, Freddy's shadow looms over the fence and wall behind her. Turning around, she sees him slowly walking towards her, cackling while extending his arms out to his sides and scraping the metal wall to his right with his knives. Tina says, "Please, God," to which Freddy responds by showing her his glove and saying, "This... is God." Terrified, Tina turns around and runs down the alley, with Freddy hot on her heels when he suddenly pops up in front of her. Now really frightened, Tina screams as she runs back into the back yard, slamming the door to the fence behind her. She runs back to the door when Freddy steps out from behind a very thin tree that he couldn't have possibly been hiding behind and gets her attention. He tells her, "Watch this," and then holds his left hand up and slices off two of his own fingers, smiling evilly as green blood squirts out. Horrified, Tina tries to make it back through the door but Freddy catches up to her and grabs her from behind. She screams for Nancy to open the door but it's useless. She struggles with Freddy, the two of them falling to the ground, and he then has her pinned down and is trying to slice her open with his knives. She holds him back by grabbing his right arm and pushing on his face with her other hand, which succeeds in ripping his face off and revealing his skull as he laughs crazily. Tina screams in horror and then suddenly pulls a cover over her, with a cut showing that she's still been in bed with Rod all this time. Rod is woken up by the commotion as Tina thrashes and screams under the cover, with the next shot showing Freddy attacking her underneath. Rod gets out of bed and pulls the cover off of Tina, revealing that she's apparently struggling with nothing. But as he watches, he sees her shirt come open and four large slashes go down her midsection, blood pouring out. As she gags, she's seemingly levitated off the bed and up into the air. Rod turns on the nearby lamp to really see what's going on but gets whacked by Tina's body and sent crashing into the corner, taking the lamp out. She's then flung against the other wall and dragged up it and across the ceiling as Rod watches, with Freddy grunting and groaning the whole time. Rod screams for Tina and when she reaches the middle of the ceiling, she holds her hand out for him. At this point, all of the screaming wakes Nancy up, while Freddy finishes Tina off and she falls on the bed, covering it in blood and splashing Rod with it too as she falls to the side. Nancy and Glen try to get through the door, hearing Rod screaming on the other side, and when Glen finally breaks it open, they find the horrific site but there's no sign of Rod, who bailed out of the window.

Nancy goes to school the following day even though she didn't sleep at all the night before and in English class, she predictably nods off. She then hears a voice call to her and when she glances to her right, she sees Tina's bloody body standing in the doorway in a zipped-up body bag. She then sees that no one else notices this and, as a guy who was reading a passage from Julius Caesar inexplicably starts talking in this creepy whisper, she looks back at the door and sees that Tina is gone and there's a trail of blood leading down the hall. Not sure what's going on, Nancy walks out into the hall and when she looks down at the end, she sees Tina's lifeless body get hoisted up by her feet and dragged down the adjoining hall by an unseen entity. Nancy then runs towards the junction of the halls and as she turns the corner, she runs into a female hall monitor wearing a certain red and green sweater. The girl asks where Nancy's hall pass, to which she says, "Screw your pass," and continues on down the hall. When she gets to a spot where leaves are inexplicably blowing in from somewhere, she hears Freddy call her name and when she turns around, the hall monitor is now wearing his glove, has slashes across her face, and, speaking in his voice, tells her, "No running in the hallway." Freddy cackles at her as she turns around and follows the blood down a stairway into the school's cellar. She calls for Tina when she gets near the bottom and hears a metal door clang up ahead. Walking on through the door up ahead, she goes through some sheets that are hanging in a doorway in front of her and finds herself in the boiler room. She keeps calling for Tina, not knowing that Freddy is watching her from nearby. She hears him breathing heavily and she makes the mistake of calling for Tina a couple of more times, only for Freddy to step out of the shadows up ahead. He takes a few steps towards Nancy, who asks him who he is. Freddy's response is to lift his sweater up and slice his side open, revealing green blood and a lot of maggots. He puts his sweater back down and then lunges towards her, cackling crazily. Nancy tries to go back the way she came but now finds that there's a solid wall behind the sheets she walked through a few moments ago. Panicking, she runs down a passage to her left and eventually goes down another to her right, only to realize too late that it's a dead end. Now trapped, she sees Freddy come around the corner in front of her and slowly stalk his way towards her. He scrapes his knives against a pipe in-between them and then closes in for the kill, raising his glove in the air. Nancy screams that it's only a dream, while he tells her, "Come to Freddy." She then screams, "Goddamn you!" as he wags his tongue at her. Nancy then purposefully burns her arm on a hot pipe next to her as Freddy attacks, which succeeds in waking her up back in English class, although she screams and panics before she realizes that she's safe, with the teacher having to calm her down. Once she settles down, she decides that it's best if she goes home and leaves. Walking outside, she cries a little bit about what's happening and then sees a burn on the exact spot where she burned herself in her dream.

After talking with Rod in the jail and learning that he's been having nightmares about Freddy too, Nancy is now convinced that what's going on is real. But, she's so exhausted that when she's taking a bath that night, she dozes off while singing the nursery rhyme to herself and when she does, Freddy's glove slowly emerges from the water in front of her and reaches towards her face. Marge then knocks on the door and Freddy retreats as she wakes up. After they talk for a bit, Nancy slowly falls asleep in the tub again and Freddy takes the opportunity to attack, pulling her down under the water into a dark abyss. Freddy laughs menacingly as she struggles to get back to the surface, coming up through the water and attempting to grab the rim of the tub before getting pulled back down again. Hearing Nancy's cries, Marge runs to the bathroom door as she, again, manages to get her head above the water and grab the rim of the tub. Marge uses a clothes hanger to unlock the door while Nancy screams for her before managing to climb out of the tub and wrap a towel around her. Marge manages to get in but Nancy reassures her that everything's fine, that she just slipped getting out of the tub. After Marge leaves, Nancy decides to take precautions and takes some pills that keep you awake.

The next nightmare occurs after Glen sneaks into Nancy's room through the window later that night and, after talking for a little bit, she asks him to watch her while she falls asleep to try to find Freddy. The dream begins with Nancy walking out her front door and down the sidewalk, stopping briefly to make sure that Glen is still watching her (when he answers her, did she ask him in her sleep or was that her subconscious somehow telling her that he was still watching her?), before heading on to the jailhouse. She walks over to the right side and looks through a barred window into Rod's cell, where she sees him sleeping. Freddy then walks through the door, prompting Nancy to call for Glen again but this time, she doesn't get an answer. She panics as she watches Freddy approach the cell-door and again yells for Glen. Freddy then walks through the bars and Nancy yells at Rod to try to wake him up as Freddy lifts up the sheet he's sleeping under, chuckling at her helplessness. Nancy then turns her head to yell for Glen again but when she looks back into the room, Freddy's gone. Rod wakes up briefly but then rolls back over when he doesn't see anything. Nancy yells for Glen again and then sees Tina in the body-bag nearby, with goo-covered eels around her feet and a centipede crawling out of her mouth. Creeping along the side of the jailhouse, Nancy yells for Glen to wake up, adding, "Are you there?!" She then hears Freddy go, "I'm here," and he emerges from behind a bush she's standing in front of and begins the chase. She tries to trip him up by putting a garbage can in his way but he easily tosses it aside (a shot that was actually directed by Wes Craven's friend, Sean S. Cunningham) and he chases her back down the street to her house. She makes it through the door and locks it but when she runs up the stairs, the patches that her feet touch turn into thick, sticky gunk (something that Bob Shaye insisted on and got to direct). As she struggles up the stairs, Freddy smashes his hand through the door's window and as he reaches for the lock, he mocks Nancy by wearing Tina's face and imitating her voice begging her for help. During this, Nancy manages to reach the top of the stairs and run into her room, where Glen is out cold in the chair by her bed. Nancy tries to convince herself that this isn't real, that it's just a dream, when Freddy bursts through the door, grabs her, and shoves her onto the bed. The two of them struggle, rolling across the bed and onto the floor, where Freddy picks her up by the neck of her shirt and threatens her with the glove. Holding his arm back, Nancy yells for Glen, who's still asleep in the middle of this chaos, and manages to somehow get free and push Freddy away. She jumps onto the bed and shields herself with her pillow when Freddy slashes at her, with him grabbing it and shaking feathers into the air, cackling wickedly while doing so. Nancy tries to escape but Freddy is immediately on her again and the two roll off the bed and at Glen's feet, where it looks like Nancy has had it. Fortunately, her alarm clock goes off and startles both her and Glen awake.

Following that, Nancy realizes that Rod is in danger if he's still asleep and she drags Glen down to the jailhouse. While Nancy tries to get her father's deputy, Garcia, to let her see Rod again, losing her patience with him and yelling, Freddy is one step ahead, twisting his bed sheet into a snake-like rope and moving it around his neck as he sleeps. Both Lt. Thompson and Garcia assure Nancy that Rod's completely fine, while we see the sheet continuing to wrap around Rod's neck. Nancy finally convinces her father to go check on Rod and Garcia begins looking for the keys. At that moment, Rod wakes up as the rope finishes tying around his neck but it takes him too long to realize what's happening before it begins pulling on him. He tries to grab onto the bed but he's easily jerked down into the floor and pulled along it. The sheet goes up the side of the wall and out through the barred window, hanging Rod. Nancy and the others get in as Rod's neck snaps and her father and Garcia rush into the cell and get Rod's body down. They put him on the floor outside of the cell and Thompson checks for a pulse but it's clear that they're too late.

After the scene in the dream clinic, the film doesn't feature another nightmare or kill scene for a little while, with Nancy's mother barring the house up and finally telling her about Fred Krueger and what happened to him. Things begin to pick back up when Nancy calls Glen with a plan to deal with Freddy, telling him to meet up with her at midnight. At around 11:50, Nancy tries to head out to meet with Glen after her mother put her to bed but when she opens the door, she sees Marge downing some vodka across the hall, blocking her route. She tries to call Glen to tell him what's going on but he, of course, fell asleep again and it's his mother who ends up answering the phone. After trying to get them to let her talk to Glen without telling them what's going on, she ends up getting hung up on, with Glen's dad then taking the phone off the hook to keep her from calling back. When she does try again and gets a busy signal, Nancy is frantic when the phone rings. Expecting that it's Glen, she answers it but hears the sound of scraping metal over the speaker. Panicking, she rips the phone's cord out but then admonishes herself for it, realizing that now Glen won't be able to call if he needs to. Peaking back out her door, she sees that Marge is no longer there and decides to go for it, when the unplugged phone rings. Walking over to it, she does answer it and hears Freddy tell her, "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy." That's when his mouth materializes on the bottom half and his tongue tries to French-kiss. Horrified, Nancy grabs the phone, throws it to the floor, and stomps at it, smashing it apart. Then realizing what Freddy meant, Nancy rushes downstairs and tries to head out the front door but Marge, now completely hammered, has locked her in and doesn't even have the key on her. As a result of that and bars that she had installed on the windows, Nancy has no way out. Back over at Glen's, Freddy reaches up through his bed and drags him, his bedspread, and the miniature TV he was watching down into a hole in the mattress. That's when a huge geyser of blood comes gushing out of the bed and spreads across the ceiling. Glen's mother, having heard the noise, walks in and is horrified beyond belief at what she sees, running off screaming.

The build-up to the climax begins afterward, with Lt. Thompson being called to the scene, where he gets a phone call from Nancy, who tells him that Fred Krueger is the one who killed Glen, that she's going to go pull him out of her dream, and asks him to over and break the door to the house down in twenty minutes. Thompson still doesn't really believe Nancy but he does tell Sgt. Parker to watch her house and call him if he sees anything strange. Nancy then prepares for the battle ahead, setting up a number of booby traps for Freddy when she pulls him into the real world. Once she finishes with that, and talks to her mother for probably the last time (which it turns out to be, although not in the way Nancy probably expected), Nancy prepares to fall asleep, setting both her alarm clock and her watch in order to wake her up in time, and finally says a prayer before lying down in her bed. The film's "last" nightmare begins with Nancy walking down the stairs and down into the cellar, where she finds that the glove that her mother showed her earlier is now gone and, after hearing a scrape, finds a door that leads into the boiler room. As she walks down the stairs into the heart of the boiler room, it's like she's literally descending into hell, with the glowing, amber lighting and the distant sounds of past exchanges of dialogue, as well as Freddy chuckling. However, when she enters the room and climbs down to the bottom floor, Freddy doesn't appear, prompting her to call for him. When he still doesn't show up, she walks on through a dark corridor and into a section with a bed where she finds Tina's crucifix and Rod's switchblade. That's when we see that Freddy is watching her from nearby but he still doesn't attack. Nancy then finds a nearby section with a furnace where Glen's bloody headphones are on the floor, which makes her mad enough to where she yells, "Come out and show yourself, you bastard!" Nancy becomes frustrated when she hears her watch beep, and that's when Freddy lunges at her from the right. He chases her down a stairwell when she suddenly falls and ends up outside her house, falling on the trellis that her mother took down. Getting up, she yells for Freddy, knowing that she's running out of time, which her watch confirms by warning her that there are only ten seconds left. Freddy shows up in the trellis to her left and she throws herself at him, holding onto him as her alarm clock goes off and wakes her up.

When Nancy wakes up, she sees that Freddy doesn't appear to be in her room and she momentarily thinks that maybe she is just nuts (where does she think that trellis came from?), when he pops up behind her and lunges at her. She runs and smashes the coffee pot she'd been keeping in her room across his head, giving her the opportunity to run out the door, lock it behind her, and set up one of her traps. While Freddy tries to break the door down, Nancy tries to get her father's attention, yelling for him out one of the top windows and then out the window in the front door, which doesn't work since he's still inside the Lantz house. Freddy then manages to get the door open but gets whacked in the gut by a sledgehammer she'd had set up above it, which disorients him and causes him to fall over the railing and down the stairs at Nancy's feet. Nancy runs into the living room, luring Freddy in, and when he tries to attack, he trips a wire that sets off a bulb she filled with gunpowder in a nearby lamp, knocking him to the floor. Nancy breaks the glass in one of the windows and again yells for her father. Sgt. Parker then decides that might want to go get Thompson, when Freddy jumps back to his feet behind Nancy and chases her down to the cellar. She lures him around to the back of the furnace and while he's peeking around to find her, she comes up behind him and throws a jar of gasoline onto him. Freddy screams when he realizes what she's about to do, which is light a small stick and fling it at him, setting him on fire. Engulfed in flames, Freddy chases her back up the stairs but when he gets to the top, she hits in the face with the door, sending him tumbling back down. She locks the door while Freddy tries to head back up the stairs but he appears to succumb to the flames. Nancy yells for her father again and this time, Thompson hears her. Seeing smoke coming out of the front door, Thompson, Parker, and two other cops break the door down and Nancy then directs them down to the cellar. That's when Nancy notices a trail of fiery footprints going through the living room and up the stairs. Realizing that Freddy's after Marge, Nancy runs up the stairs with her father following her, asking what's going on. Entering Marge's bedroom, Nancy sees Freddy sitting on top of her, his body still burning. She smashes a chair over his back, causing him to fall on top of Marge, and when Thompson comes in, he tries to smother the fire with the bedspread. When he pulls it back, they see Marge's burnt corpse decend into the bed and disappear, with Freddy nowhere to be found. Nancy desperately smacks the mattress, calling for her mother, and Thompson, not knowing exactly what he saw, comforts her. She tells him to go downstairs, saying she'll be down in a minute, and when he leaves, the door closes by itself behind Nancy. She turns her back to the bed as Freddy rises up through the mattress and cuts his way through it. He threatens her but she, remembering something Glen had told her about dealing with nightmares, decides to take control, telling Freddy that she knows he's not alive, that he's not real, and demands her mother and friend back, which infuriates him. With her fear no longer giving him power, Nancy turns her back on Freddy, who tries to attack but disappears into nothing.

The ending has always confused me, with Nancy walking out of the bedroom and suddenly being outside, in the daytime, ready to go to school, and with her mother and friends being alive and well, suggesting that the whole movie was a nightmare she was having. And then, Glen's car comes alive and drives off with them, which Marge doesn't seem to notice, and Freddy's hand bursts through the window on the front door and pulls her through, while those little girls sing the nursery rhyme again. So, is this really happening or is Nancy still asleep? And for that matter, did the movie really happen or was the whole thing a dream, as Nancy suggested herself? I don't like this confusion over whether it was real or not, with the sequels complicating things further by proving that the film's events really happened. Plus, either way, it's not satisfying to me. I don't like the idea of the whole movie having been one long nightmare that Nancy had, which was the original intent of the script, because it feels like a cheat to me, that there was no reason to root for or be scared for her because none of it was real. And even it was real, the ending nevertheless negates the struggles Nancy went through to save her loved ones and taking away Freddy's power if he comes back right after she does so (not that it matters, since the sequels almost never explain how he comes back there). It seems as though this was Bob Shaye's doing since he wanted a twist ending (he's always claimed that it wasn't because he wanted a sequel but, like Craven often did, I call bullcrap on that) as opposed to Craven's intended happy ending. I always thought that a nice compromise would have been for the kids to drive off normally and you see those little girls singing the song, leaving it open to speculation as to whether or not the whole thing was real. I'm not sure but that may have been one of the four endings they did ultimately shoot. The ending is ultimately my only major gripe with the the movie since, despite all of the ways you could possibly interpret it, it could have been a lot better.

A Nightmare on Elm Street has one of my personal favorite 80's horror film scores, courtesy of Charles Bernstein. The most recognizable part of the score is that melody that Bernstein created to compliment the nursery rhyme that the little girls sing and it's a tune that's both beautiful as well as eerie and foreboding. You hear it many, many times throughout the film in different variations, from instances where you just hear the soft piano melody to others where you hear a kind of far off moaning sound behind it, from an interesting version where you hear a driving beat behind it that goes, "Chh, chh, chh, bom," (that plays when Nancy walks to the jailhouse in that one dream) to a very creepy version that you hear immediately following the scene in the dream clinic. Bernstein also makes use of a lot of electronic equipment to create some really frightening pieces of music, like the low beat that goes, "Din, din, din, din" and makes a sort of vocalizing sound as well, which you hear at the very beginning (where it culminates loudly in a truly nightmarish version of the main theme) and when Nancy's last nightmare begins, the rhythmic, driving piece that you hear when Freddy first chases Nancy in the boiler room, music that sounds like an electronic version of the Psycho murder theme when Freddy pulls Glen through his bed, and the fast-paced, scary pieces when Freddy chases Tina in the second nightmare and when he gets after Nancy and chases her into her house and up into her room, with the latter being very frightening. There are a number of low, menacing bits of music, like one with a beat that kind of goes, "Bom," when Nancy is trying to call Glen, low piano music that you hear in the dream clinic, a quietly scary bit that you hear when Tina hears Freddy calling her outside of her house, and a kind of subtle, actiony piece when Nancy is setting booby traps across the house and a short, frantic one when Nancy rushes to the front door to try to help Glen. I could go on but I think I've said enough. This score is just awesome, period. As for the song Nightmare by 213 that plays over the ending credits, I've never cared that much for it. It's not horrible but it's not a song I would listen to again and again. There are plenty of better songs in the later movies.

What more can I say about A Nightmare on Elm Street? It's truly a classic, both of 80's horror and of the genre in general. The cast, despite some rough patches here and there, do their jobs well, the story is well told, has some nice subtext to it courtesy of Craven, and is interesting throughout, there are a number of scenes that are genuinely scary and intense, the special effects, especially the physical and optical ones, are very well done for such a low budget, the nightmare sequences are executed brilliantly, Charles Bernstein's music is excellent, and Freddy Krueger is one of the great horror movie villains. Aside from the spots of rough acting, some occasional silly moments that clash with what Craven was trying to do, and some stunt doubles that are very obvious, the only major complaint I have is that the ending could have been a lot better but, as it is, it's muddled. However the rest of the film is so well done enough that I can easily overlook it. And best of all, it was the beginning of a very entertaining and imaginative franchise while still being an excellent film in and of itself, which is much more than I can say for the original Friday the 13th! Nothing else I can say except that it's still an awesome horror flick, one of Wes Craven's biggest accomplishments, and one that no fan of the genre should overlook.

1 comment:

  1. yeah, great horror feature, that unfortunately, turned into a franchise.... I wish that Wes was still here; maybe he could have given guidance, to the these up and coming movie makers, who it seems to have turned his masterpiece..... into nothing more than a "way to make money".....

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